- Associated Press - Sunday, May 10, 2015

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. (AP) - The road to a new life for Crystal Dye and her young son is a long, narrow one, lined with years of group sessions for her addiction, after-care and counseling for 3-year-old Evan, visits to state drug court and random drug screenings.

That also means a lot of trips for Ann Lunceford of Southaven.

“We’re on the road a lot,” said Lunceford. But she’s glad to do it all for the ex-offenders she affectionately calls “my girls.” Her role, she said, “(is) a joy. Some girls are more difficult to work with, but each one for me is a blessing.”

The great-grandmother directs Precious in Pink, a prison ministry where Lunceford opens her heart and home to older teens and women in need of a safe, supportive place to stay after release from jail.

“Because of Miss Ann, I get a second chance at life, and to raise my son,” said Dye, 34, a Chicago native who moved recently to Tunica County. “She’s just a godsend; there was no other place I could go.”

Dye doesn’t want to slip back to bad habits and jail again, and wants to spare her son growing up in a series of foster homes, as she experienced in her own troubled youth, she said.

Dye was arrested in October in Hernando by sheriff’s deputies on a charge of possession of opiates and jailed. But since early January, she and her son have been residents at Lunceford’s three-bedroom home, serving as Precious in Pink’s cozy center while the faith-based nonprofit’s founder tries to raise funds to build an official halfway facility with staff. Lunceford gets a lot of help from her husband Clarence, despite a disability that requires him to use a wheelchair.

“He helps keep an eye on things while I’m out,” said Ann Lunceford, and Clarence’s duties now include keeping up with little Evan. Plans are to enroll Evan in Head Start for prekindergarten programs.

Under a Drug Court “house arrest” program that avoids jail time, his mother’s felony charge will be erased upon completion of three years of rehab and staying drug-free.

In the DeSoto Jail following her arrest, “I’d given up hope of finding a way out, and I expected to lose my child,” said Dye. Then she met Lunceford during one of the latter’s regular jail visits.

“I realized I needed help, God’s help, that I’d been too proud to get on my knees to ask Him for help,” said Dye. “I thought I could deal with my addiction by myself.”

“There are places for men out of jail, but none for women in DeSoto County,” said Lunceford. “I just believe God told me to help them, to keep them out of that revolving door.”

A graduate of Whitehaven High in Memphis, Lunceford, 61, has lived in DeSoto for about 20 years and helps with real estate closings in the law office of David Delgado in Southaven. She began making jail visits about five years ago, “and it became obvious that many of the girls were repeaters.” The ministry she launched received 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt status in October.

Over four years, Precious in Pink has aided about 25 women, ages 18 to mid-50s, some staying just a few months but some longer, including one woman who just completed a three-year drug-rehab stay. Clients get pink Bibles and a pink journal to record progress.

Precious in Pink has a seven-member board that includes Mark Cantrell, on the staff of Longview Heights Baptist Church in Olive Branch; and Chad Wicker, director of Detention Services for the DeSoto Sheriff’s Department.

“It’s important to get our inmates back on a natural course of doing the right thing,” said Sheriff Bill Rasco. “We want to help this ministry, and having Chad on the board is a way of doing that.”

The recently expanded jail has beds for 60 females, “and we have 40 to 50 filled most of the time,” said Rasco.

Lunceford last week received approval from Hernando aldermen for street closings on Oct. 24 to accommodate a 5K fundraiser, “Make a Break for It” run/walk that will start at Lee’s Summit Park on Hernando’s east side.

For more on the ministry and the 5K, call 901-849-3562.

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Information from: The Commercial Appeal, https://www.commercialappeal.com


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